Roman Josi – The Swiss Maestro
The Year of the Predator
Last season, the Nashville Predators bounced back from 6th in the Central Division, 19th overall, and completely missing out on the playoffs to finishing, 2nd in the Central Division, 6th overall, and getting into the playoffs.
It was a remarkable turnaround for the Tennessee team thanks to a few key players.
The return of Pekka Rinne for a whole season was a huge boost for the Preds, his great performances making him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
For the past couple of seasons, defender and captain, Shea Weber, has been leading the team on points but finally, last season some actual forwards have stepped up to the helm. Filip Forsberg, 20 and Mike Ribeiro, 14 years Forsbarg’s senior, chipped in 125 points between them, with the youngster getting just one point more that Ribeiro.
Once again, Shea Weber played a fantastic campaign; he managed to get 45 points and nailing in an immense 166 hits. The Nashville captain carried the Sabre-Cats through their dark times and still provides in times of good.
The player that is sometimes forgotten is Swiss defender Roman Josi. The two-way d-man was not only great when defending his own thir,d but also managed to surge into offence at the flick of a switch.
Josi finished in joint 5th on the NHL’s defender points ranking table, providing 15 goals and 40 assists for his team. He tied the position with John Carlson of Washington, who scored 3 less goals than the Preds blueliner.
What makes his 40 assists even more impressive, when compared to other defenders close to him in the rankings, is that his play managed to boost Forsberg’s first rookie season and aid Ribeiro in somewhat of a comeback season.
Being joint on points with a man who has Alex Ovechkin to feed for the majority of the game is a real accomplishment.
Born in Bern, Switzerland, Josi played his way through SC Bern’s youth set up. At age 16 he posted 30 points in 33 games in the youth set up. In order for him to enhance his skills, the teenager was left in the juniors for an extra season. The following season, he played every game for the SC Bern first team.
In 2008 he became eligible for the NHL Draft and was picked by the Predators in the second round, 38th overall. It was a very strong year for defenders with Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Erik Karlsson, Luca Sbisa, Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson all being picked ahead of him. But this season, he outranked nearly all of them.
Roman’s sudden rise to being one of the league’s top ranking rearguards is all thanks to the patience of his NHL club, and the nurturing of his home club. After being drafted at the beginning of the 2008/09 season, Josi was sent back to SC Bern until the end of the 2010/11.
In these three years he refined his technique and boosted his physical skills to become NHL ready. The 2011/12 season saw Josi make his debut in the yellow and blue, scoring 5 goals and teeing up a further 11.
The Swiss then played every game of the infamous Lockout season in 2012/13 and managed to improve his previous goals and assists tally by an extra 2 assists.
The season before last witnessed Roman Josi develop into a solid NHL defenseman. His production rocketed to 13 goals and 27 assists as he moved up the Predator’s defensive lines. His season was still overshadowed by the big man, Shea Weber, and the 4th overall pick, Seth Jones.
But his efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and after back to back seasons failing to reach the playoffs, Roman Josi was pushed up to the top line, to accompany his team captain for the 2014/15 campaign.
As has already been mentioned, Roman Josi’s play last season was incredible, causing people to consider him to be one of the best two-way defenders in the league, scoring 15 goals and assisting 40, whilst playing 81 games.
Is he contending with Shea?
Almost every NHL fan will tell you no. Weber is the captain and the face of the Nashville Predator franchise and has consistently been their best player over nearly a decade. He is also one of the top defenders in the league. But if you look at the stats from last season, you may be surprised.
First of all there’s the points, Josi set up 10 more goals than Weber last season, whilst playing on the same line, and a lot of the same powerplays. The 25 year old Swiss D-man beat the 30 year old by 11 places in the defender points rankings.
However, the two players are defenders, so let’s see how they compare in their primary duties of stopping attackers from shooting pucks at the net.
In terms of takeaways, Nashville’s number 59 stole the opponent’s possession 2 more times than his captain did, ending 25 to 23, in Josi’s favour. However, the 25 year old can be seen to be a bit suspect when it comes to giveaways, losing possession an average of once per game (81 times), whereas the more experienced Shea Weber only gave the puck away 53 times.
Despite not being as good at keeping possession for his team, Roman supports his comrades with other aspects of his defensive game. Big Shea stopped 147 shots last season, which was 22nd overall and a great help to his team. His Swiss counterpart however, stopped an incredible 209 shots.
Josi came second in the blocked shots rankings to Kris Russell, who stopped 283 shots. He must have come out in a mask and glove for games last season.
He’s quite far off being talked about in as lofty terms as franchise-carrying Shea Weber but, if he stays fit and consistent, he can definitely earn the right to be considered his equal. But he has a few grinding years left to go yet.
A Cost Effective Superstar
The NHL is a salary capped league, meaning that teams need to be careful about how they share out their available wages. The salary cap is set for next season at $71.4 million with a floor of $52.8 million.
Keeping Shea as their super number 6, will cost Nashville about $14 million next season. Nearly a fifth of the entire budget on just one player, whereas the defender who out scored him only takes $4 million out of the budget.
When Nashville, but more specifically the Director of Hockey Operations, Brian Poile, decided that Roman Josi was NHL ready, they signed him from Switzerland to a seven year NHL contract, lasting until the end of the 2018/19 season.
Being only 25, one can only assume that he’ll continue to improve with each passing season, and his team mates like Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Craig Smith, Calle Jarnkrok, Cody Hodgson, Ryan Ellis and, Gabriel Bourque are all 25 or under, so he’s developing with a talented and quite young team.
Josi to push the Preds through the Playoffs
Despite making the playoffs last season, Nashville’s run came to a grinding holt in the first round, losing 4-2 to eventual champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
But, the Predators’ side look ready to continue their growth into reinstating themselves as a playoff side. They haven’t suffered any major losses to their roster and have more top prospects making their way into the squad.
If Roman Josi continues to improve his production on the offensive side, and keeps up the committed play on defence, and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t, the Swiss D-man will be a key element to Nashville’s success in the upcoming season.
With such a talented team, and a driven coach behind them, the Predators should be able to reach beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nashville’s first face-off of the new season is on the 8th of October, away to the Carolina Hurricanes.
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